Louis Guanella Oakland 200-Miler And National Championship

From the November 1940 Issue of Motorcyclist magazine

Word that the Oakland Speed way 200- mile national had been sanctioned spread almost as by magic. Before the boys on the west coast had a chance to double check the sanction, word arrived that the eastern contingent was on its way.

Those who were to condition the track had to work hard and fast to get the speedway in shape so the first arrivals could practice. Babe Tancrede, Ben Campanale, Jim Chann and young Billy Huber came in one flurry and in the next came Witinski and Mel Rhodes. Those names added a lot to the interest that grew by leaps and bounds on the coast.

The track turned out better than it has any year thus far. Riders could go almost anywhere on it that they wanted, and that part which followed the usual grove was very smooth. One corner a lone gave some trouble. It was the hangover of someone having put oil in that turn which left the surface softer and with a tendency to wrinkle with use. Many times during the practice period this section was worked again but even on the day of the race it continued to be a tough spot.

Last year Ed Kretz set a lap record of 39.13 in the time trials. And inside the first week of practice word traveled a long the grapevine that riders were getting under that mark. Of course such statements are always taken with a grain of salt because it is almost impossible to time with a hand watch at Oakland and get the same answer as does the electric timer. Then, too, enthusiasm for a certain rider or machine seems to cause fingers to be restless and often in the past the most remarkable times came out of the pit timers.

However, with the track better, and with machines always undergoing a certain amount of grooming in the direction of speed there is that first time for higher speeds. On top of that some of the boys have ridden Oakland enough times that they are getting better and faster on it.

Despite the late start on the track most of the entries got in a lot of practice. In fact some rode so far they blew up their jobs and rebuilt them before the day of the race. Everyone knows that tires need to be worn in for additional traction and just about every starter had a goodly number of miles on his tread.

The boys had tried all the possible gear combinations so that they could use one for qualification and another for the race.

Campanale was getting down so low in the turns he was wearing off his foot rests. Pee Wee Cullum on a 21-inch Velocette was at one time turning 8,000 r.p.m. down the straight as he played up and down the scale of gears.

Triumph has several machines on hand, with oldtimer Al Chasteen herding one of them in and out of the turns.

Friday before the race was a busy one for officials. A technical committee was selected, composed of Fred Ludlow, Hank Syvertson and “Red” Fenwick. The A.M.A. checking system was to be used for the first time on the west coast and all the details of that were gone over for the “nth” time. There was one checker and caller for every two men in the 25 to start. Others were to time and check pit stops. Others were to pass the information at 20-lap intervals to the announcer and thus to the crowd. A spare electric timer was tuned up. The weather man received his twentieth call. So it went far into the night.

Several days before the race it rained hard in Oakland. That storm moved southward and hit Los Angeles with its full fury on Friday night. So, the wires buzzed between L.A. and the Bay District as the Southern contingents were advised that all was clear up there and to drive on up.

Saturday saw a beehive of activity at the track. Those who made the 438-mile jaunt in seven and one-half hours the night before were out on the track trying their combinations. (Some of these riders had been up earlier for part of their practice.)

The times clocked by hand on Saturday did not come up to some of those quoted earlier in practice, but many of them broke 41 which cast an ominous light on that mark Kretz had set the year before. From dawn to dark the boys had at it and then it was promised the track would give a final hour of practice on Sunday between 7 and 8 a.m.

There were numerous parties around the whole Bay Section on Saturday night at which all the fans met and talked race. Riders all slept in, for well did they know the strain of 200 miles on the ‘morrow.

Sunday broke clear, but fairly cool. Despite this there was the first gathering of a big crowd by the time the boys got on for their final practice.

Then came the time trials. Each man out of fifty-five was to get two trial laps and a third for warming up if he so desired. Right off the bat the fellows began turning fast laps. We forget the exact order in which they ran their trials but the first two or three trials ran under 42. Pretty soon Ben Campanale came out. He elected to take his warming up lap and by the time he entered the trap he was fiat out. In the middle of the first turn he suffered what on Oakland was a bad slide. Few, indeed, slide on that surface and stay up. Somehow he snapped it back into position and continued on without a shut-off. Somebody timed him down the back stretch in less than six seconds. Right then the timers knew he was getting around. In the second turn he slid again and his footrest went skating up the incline. It must have been the groans in the timing stand that held him up that time. Then back across the tape. It said 38.33 on the watch. The whole technical committee viewed the watch, as they did on each ride. There was no fooling about it. He had set a new mark which meant nearly 94 m.p.h.

Part way through the trials it was noted that a couple men rode quite high. Those high rides cost time. Then came the answer. So much had been said about conditioning the track that the man in charge was really working overtime. He had poured some tar on a couple of spots right during the trials and these boys had taken it for oil and ridden above it. That offered a problem for officials and technical committee. It was decided to give the ones affected one more ride. This was done but, as it happened to work out, no positions were changed, although about two men did slightly better their time.

It took until 12:30 to complete the trials. The cards were sorted out and then it showed up that the slowest time for the twenty-five starters was 40.94 seconds. Last year riders made the twenty-five starters with times upward of 43 seconds. It so happened that the next three men after the twenty-five starters were tied with 40.96 seconds. Had the starters reached one man farther it would have been necessary to run off this tie. But imagine three being eliminated by .02 of a second.

Just shortly before the race there was a commotion among the officials. “Red” Lemery had just pulled in from Boston with his Triumph. “Red” had been driving across and, due to two break-downs on the road, was unable to reach the track until about thirty minutes before the start. Mr. Hopping, the Triumph representative in this country, and a couple of lads with “Red” certainly wanted him to get a fling at the track. After a consultation of the committee it was decided to give “Red” three laps. He quickly agreed to this and his machine was wheeled to the line while the announcer explained the sporting proposition to the crowd. “Red” was off and he didn’t waste time drilling into those turns. For one who had not ridden the track before he did remarkably well, and showed why he has won so much acclaim in his own territory. On his last lap he was timed and three watches caught him at 43 and a fraction seconds. He thanked the officials, while the crowd gave him quite a hand.

Almost before anyone knew it the riders were at the line getting final instructions. This year a “hold position” flag was introduced. In the case of a pile up it would be the only way to handle all parties concerned. Also, after all machines were running the starter was to run up twenty-five paces ahead of the field and turn around. At that point an official clicked a stop watch. In thirty seconds the flag was to drop, even though one man should hold up his hand. It was decided it would not be fair to foul up many of the machines if one stopped and could not immediately be started.

Motors started up, riders began adjusting goggles, the sentry at the end of each line signaled his five machines were running and the starter pranced out to position. The stop watch started but in fourteen seconds all was well and starter Harais dropped the flag.

That is when everybody stops breathing and all eyes become glued to the first turn. The air is rent with a holocaust of sound and riders fling themselves at the first corner as though that was the only important milestone in the 200-mile race.

They made it! Their shifting of positions in that bend played tricks on the human eye. It was some kind of a fast-working shuttle with so many movements taking place so fast that it was necessary to line them up on the back stretch before it was possible to tell what rider was in the lead. Then only by style could a rider be determined, for the distance was too great to make the numbers readable.

When they barged on a round the treacherous second turn and into the home stretch it was Mel Rhoads in the lead. Tacked onto him was Ben Campanale and more or less in order on behind were Sam Arena, Kretz and the rest.

By the second lap about twelve riders were all in a line behind that same leader, each one riding pace on the fellow ahead. Somebody remarked that it looked just like the races when factory teams used to ride the boards. Rhoads rode a beautiful style, flat on the tank and his eyes peering under the left bar. He did not straighten up in the turns as do many riders on Oakland. He just laid fiat on that tank all the way around. The time per lap in those first five was approximately 40.50 seconds. That was a hell of a pace for the start of a 200-mile race.

Rhoads must have thought the same thing for he moved over and let Mr. Campanale take the lead. For two laps he showed the boys around. Then Sam Arena took the lead.

Although Sam suffered a broken arm this summer, he was fully recovered and back in the race in time for Oakland. Sam has won two of these events and is a great guy to play with the pits. When he took the lead the time began to slow to an average of around 43 seconds. He held first position from the eighth to the eleventh laps.

Campanale again moved into the lead. All this time Kretz had been tacked on to Campanale. Bennie would zig-zag and try in other ways to make Ed lose his draft but when Ed was shaken off he would flatten out on the tank and drill in until he picked up pace again.

Back of Kretz was Billy Huber, the 19- year-old sensation from Reading, Pennsylvania, and protégé of “Red” Wolverton. All that has been said about his style is justified. He, too, was flat on the tank and he rode the turns much like Rhoads. He took a long haul from Reading to Oakland for a fellow of his tender years in racing. He was modest, pleasant, eager to learn and had time for every piece of advice that any of the old timers gave him. On top of it all he had judgment for he weeded the wheat from the chaff and let some of the hot boys set the pace. He was always riding draft, givinghis machme every advantage and cocked an ever-watchful eye on his pits.

In the tenth lap it was Arena, Campanale, Kretz, Huber, Albrecht, Cottrell, Bill Mills Ernie Holbrook and one Louis Guanella. Note the position of that last gentleman for he, along with Arena, was riding out of the Tom Sifton pits. Tom has twice before generaled a winner, and this year he did the same for none other than this fellow Guanella.

In the twenty-ninth lap a groan went up from the grandstand. A rider had broken traction, slid into the fence, and his machine had bounced back into the grove where so many were riding. Coming out of the last part of this second turn, those who looked under the bars would have short notice of the broken iron horse in their path. The machine was number 9 and the rider was Jimmie Kelly, “Slow-Burning Kelly” to his many friends. Jim leaped back over the fence and onto the track. Running toward the oncoming field he jumped up and down and waved his arms like some jack-in-the-box. Then he seemed to realize the speed of these boys as a couple whizzed by him, almost under his flailing arms. So he pulled another jump and this one put him back outside the fence. By then the first bunch of traffic was by and several boys helped Jimmie pull his mount up and over the fence.

From that point on to the thirty-sixth the crowd saw Kretz and Campanale trade the lead back and forth and at times Sam Arena took it. The field has lessened somewhat. Witinski had been forced out in the third lap. That was a sorrowful break for a fellow who had traveled so far. Lou Figoni went out in the sixteenth. Danny Hoffman had made three pit stops, one in the eighth lap, another in the twenty-ninth and one in the thirty-fifth.

In the thirty-sixth came a thriller. Paul Albrecht of Sacramento slid into the fence. He really skated at terrific speed and his machine made a great bounce into the air where it was seen to separate into two pieces. The front wheel and forks went bouncing down the incline in one direction and the rest of the machine went bouncing down in another. For a second it gave the impression that another machine had connected with the first and that two were bouncing around together.

As luck would have it nobody had been on Albrecht’s tail and thus there was no crackup. It is for just such moments as this one that officials held the starters to twenty-five, and many a head agreed that if there had been more starters in this race a couple would surely have been killed at that point.

The way it was the only flag displayed was the “danger, watch your step,” and in a trice many helpful hands had the debris removed from the course. Albrecht was taken to the hospital and it was found that he had a broken arm and wrenched shoulder. That was the most serious accident of the day.

During that mix-up Arena again moved into the lead, closely followed by the same crew. Always it was Campanale and Kretz or Kretz and Campanale. Deciding that they could not shake each other, they did as was common on the old racing teams. They gave the lead to the other man, each to cool his own job. Back of Arena, Campanale and Kretz was Huber up to the fiftieth lap. Bill Mills who was working out of the same pit as Huber rode behind him during most of that distance. Cottrell’s was the next most consistent face. Jack was riding a pace slightly faster than the one of a year ago, but definitely not worrying about the faster boys up ahead. Gradually moving forward was Guanella. When he got onto Cottrell’s tail he seemed to hang there.

In the fifty-fourth lap Arena had to change a back tire. His pit put him back into the running in approximately 32 seconds. Old Tom was doing his part in the race with a vengeance. Later Kretz went into the pit and remained there for a minute and thirty some seconds.

All the boys who were in the money refueled between 103 and 110 laps. Kretz made his long stop in the one hundred and fifth and then tried to make up his lost time but came back in to stay in the one hundred and twelfth. Campanale refueled in the one hundred and second lap and continued on until the one hundred and sixtieth lap when he again pulled in. His job refused to go back out and that was exit Bennie.

Up to the one hundred and eightieth lap the crowd had seen fast going on the part of half of the field. The other half had been jogging along, in comparison. About the one hundred and eightieth lap the first division, as it were, rapidly thinned. The first thing people knew they were beginning to focus their attention on the second division, for it was then evident that out of that section was likely to come the winner. Many a fan noted for the first time that number 7 (Guanella) had been riding a most consistent race. Likewise Babe Tancrede was very, very close to a lead. Bob Riede was in the pack that counted and so was Braithwaite. It was almost like a new race.

Seven thousand fans stayed on to see an exciting finish, even though the field was narrowed to about fourteen men. Once Guanella moved into the lead on the one hundred and eightieth he remained there. Bill Mills was not far behind him. Tancrede and Cottrell, in order, were speeding up and trying to close the gap back of the leader. At this point it was evident how the pit judgment had varied. Most of this field had ridden a timed race, and it looked like the Sifton guess had been mighty close to the best one.

As the shadows of the grandstand lengthened and reached on into the infield the clock clicked off more and more of those final trips around the oval. Riders were tired, checkers were tired, mechanics were tired. But there was to be one final incident before the victor was to be named.

In the one hundred and ninety-fifth lap Billie Huber pulled into the pits. Many had wondered whether the lad would pack the stamina to ride two hundred laps against so many veterans. Up until that one hundred and ninety-fifth lap he had ridden with all the signs of sufficient endurance to complete the grind. When he pulled into the pits he jumped off and motioned to the machine. A moan went up from his many admirers. Furiously mechanics worked over the job but it had given its all. Billie was grounded five laps from the finish and most probably a fifth spot in the money. Naturally, he got a great hand. He smiled and took it like a champ. So while he lost the race he won many friends for his sportsman-like attitude.

With that George Harais dropped the next to last lap flag on Guanella. Soon thereafter he toured across for the checkered flag. His time was 2 hours, 21 minutes and 45.55 seconds. Last year’s time was 2:25 :51.6.

Bill Mills came through for second position, Babe Tancrede for third, and Jack Cottrell for fourth. Despite two pit stops, former champion Arena, came in for fifth place and he was only 4 minutes and 45 seconds behind the winner. Bill Crowder made four pit stops and took ninth. He was 17 minutes and 15 seconds behind the winner. Mel Rhoads made five pit stops and was flagged at one hundred and ninety laps.

Every one of those who finished did a marvelous job of riding. This was evidenced by the fact that mo re than half the huge crowd stayed to see over half the finishers get their flag. Many remained for the last ounce of ceremony which included presentation of cups to the winner. One was a large cup put up by the sponsor and another was one put up by the Triumph factory for the winner, regardless of machine. There were A.M.A. medals for the first three positions. Ed Kretz was given a cup for setting a record last year in the time trials and Campanale was given one for breaking that record this year with a new one.

As the chill of evening drifted in from the bay the five first machines were measured by the technical committee. Already trailers were loaded and leaving to join the line of fans on their way to home points many miles away. Where sharp exhausts and intense excitement had reigned soon only a few straggling headlights remained.

That night there were celebrations where champions of many tracks and events slapped each other on the back. But none could be happier than likable Louis Guanella, the new champ, and that old general Tom Sifton.

The A.M.A. checking system worked to perfection. Al Fergoda did a bang-up job as referee and all officials, together with promoter Dud Perkins, combined to present what everyone agrees was the best 200-miler on that track so far.

Thus ends Oakland for 1940.

Guanella, fifth place winner in 1939, takes the first flag in 1940, winning the national 200-mile title.
In order we see McDougall in front, although he is actually a lap behind, with Kretz leading and Campanale momentarily in second spot. Last in the line is Bill Crowder of Sacramento, catching up after a pit stop.
Left: Guanella, tired but happy, enjoys a smoke and a Coca-Cola while he offers his first comments to his pit manager, Tom Sifton
Right: Referee Al Fergoda presents A.M.A. medals to the first three place men- Guanella, Bill Mills and “Babe” Tancrede.
The champ receives the trophy which was donated by far-away Triumph officials to the winner, regardless of machine.
Promoter Dud Perkins presents his own special trophy to Ben Campanale for setting a new record in the time trials- 38.33 or approximately 94 m.p.h. on a hard surfaced speedway
Chet Billings, West Coast A.M.A. representative, presents the 1939 speed trials cup to Ed Kretz
Guanella laughs over his two trophies, the Dud Perkins cup and the Triumph cup while Kretz, out of the picture, is informed he is to get a trophy for his time trial record a year ago.
Dwight Moody, vice president and general manager of the Indian Motorcycle Company is welcomed to Los Angeles by American Indians. They greeted him in the Indian language and with upraised palms, the age-old token of “no weapons.” Left to right are: Sky High, Dwight L. Moody, Big Heart and Willow Bird. Mr. Moody studied west coast conditions and also attended dealer conferences in Bakersfield, California, and Portland, Oregon.